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What’s the deal with monkeypox in C-U?

Certainly you’ve heard about monkeypox, the latest virus to make the news. Because it’s not as contagious or lethal as COVID-19, maybe you haven’t been paying very close attention. That is completely understandable, as the last handful of years have been one dumpster fire after another. We are tired. We are overstimulated. It’s hard to figure out which scary thing we need to dedicate time and energy to worrying about. Monkeypox is something you should be paying attention to, but it’s not the scariest thing in the world for most people right now. However, just because you and your people might not be in a “high risk” group, you should still have an idea of where things stand, and the ways in which you may support more vulnerable members of our community. 

Last week, Illinois declared a state of emergency regarding the disease, which allows for additional resources to be allocated to address it, and better communication among state agencies. It sounds alarming, but this declaration is a good measure to ensure that Illinois is better prepared to handle and prevent outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers a very good FAQ section on the disease, and you can find local information on the Champaign Urbana Public Health District’s (CUPHD) website

Right now there are only three confirmed cases of monkeypox in Champaign County. We wanted to offer our own brief guide to the virus, and how it is being addressed in C-U, so we reached out to Julie Pryde, Administrator of CUPHD. Please note that we, the Editorial Board, are neither doctors nor epidemiologists, and this is not a comprehensive article about all of the ways in which the disease can be spread or prevented. If you have questions or an emergency, please contact your doctor.

What is it?

Monkeypox is a virus. While it can be very painful, it is not often fatal, but you certainly don’t want to leave it untreated. It is treatable. People who are pregnant, children, and those with autoimmune diseases could have more adverse reactions to the virus. Monkeypox may manifest with flu-like symptoms including a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and most notably, a rash with blisters or sores.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is contagious, though not as contagious as COVID-19. It also doesn’t spread the same way as COVID-19, which is to say that monkeypox is not spread through aerosols. The disease is spread through contact, especially extensive contact with an infected person’s secretions. People who live in the same house as an infected person are at a higher risk than someone you shake hands with or briefly encounter at the grocery store. Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection, but can be transmitted through sex because you’re generally rubbing bodies together for a prolonged(ish) period of time and/or spending time rubbing on clothing/linens/bedding/surfaces that could contain respiratory droplets and rash secretions. The key here is prolonged contact, which the CDC describes as “close, skin-to-skin contact.”

From CUPHD: 

Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, including:

  • Direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids from a person with monkeypox.
  • Touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.
  • Contact with respiratory secretions.

This direct contact can happen during intimate contact, including:

  • Oral, anal, and vaginal sex or touching the genitals (penis, testicles, labia, and vagina) or anus (butthole) of a person with monkeypox.
  • Hugging, massage, and kissing.
  • Prolonged face-to-face contact.
  • Touching fabrics and objects during sex that were used by a person with monkeypox and that have not been disinfected, such as bedding, towels, fetish gear, and sex toys.

A pregnant person can spread the virus to their fetus through the placenta.

  • It’s also possible for people to get monkeypox from infected animals, either by being scratched or bitten by the animal or by preparing or eating meat or using products from an infected animal.
  • A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks.
  • Scientists are still researching:
  • If the virus can be spread when someone has no symptoms.
  • How often monkeypox is spread through respiratory secretions, or when a person with monkeypox symptoms might be more likely to spread the virus through respiratory secretions.
  • Whether monkeypox can be spread through semen, vaginal fluids, urine, or feces.

Who is most at risk?

Right now, in the United States, most of the people who are infected with monkeypox are men who have or have had sex with other men. This does not make it a gay disease! Please remember that diseases do not, in fact, have feelings or a political agenda. Julie Pryde shared that close contacts of an infected person are most at risk. And while most of the cases have been among men who have sex with men, “there have been cases in women and children and men who do not report sex with other men.” 

Monkeypox is mostly transmitted through repeated, close, skin-to-skin contact, which is why there is some concern about the singular adult case at a Rantoul daycare. No children or other adults have tested positive; vaccines were made available to anyone (including children) who was exposed. Julie Pryde notes:

As of this time there has been no transmission noted at the daycare. A worker from a daycare has tested positive. That person is in isolation. The daycare did the CDC-approved cleaning and sanitizing of the daycare. CUPHD and Carle teamed up to offer screenings and vaccinations to those who were potentially exposed. We are casting a wide-net, but we have no report of any direct exposure. This case should be illustrative to other places of employment. Any workplace could potentially have an employee with monkeypox. If that happens CUPHD will work closely with the case and the employer to do contact tracing and offer assessment and possibly vaccination. A case of monkeypox in a workplace does not mean that there will be an outbreak in that setting.

Remember: This is not an airborne disease. Here is a helpful guide to assessing your risk.   

How do you prevent yourself from getting it?

What can you do to prevent contracting monkeypox? Much of the same stuff you’re doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wash your hands! Wash your hands! Wash your hands! It seems really simple, but clean hands go a long way. If you are having symptoms, contact your doctor and/or CUPHD. If you’re in a high risk category, you may be eligible for the vaccine — you’ll have to reach out to CUPHD to complete their screening process first. According to Pryde: 

Viruses do not discriminate, but limited supplies of vaccines mean that we will be providing the vaccines to those who have social networks where the virus is actively transmitting. Currently this includes men who have sex with men and those who have sex with men who have sex with men. Persons who may be at increased risk for [monkeypox virus] can send an email to [email protected] for an assessment and a call back. Make sure to include a phone number where you can be reached.

What are the resources available to us in C-U?

Though we are not health professionals, from what we have read, it does not seem like the return of thousands of students to C-U will create a massive monkeypox threat. At the time of publishing, there is a monkeypox information website through McKinley Health at the University of Illinois, which collates much of the same information we have also collated from the CDC and CUPHD. Most of the COVID cleaning protocols address monkeypox, so there are currently no plans to expand those types of services. According to the News-Gazette, the U of I will have a small number of vaccines available for anyone who needs one, as well as antiviral medications for treatment. 

We asked Julie Pryde if monkeypox is highly transmissible in school settings. She said, “No. Unlike COVID, monkeypox is not airborne.” 

However, she wanted to reiterate the very real, potentially deadly threat of COVID-19: 

While monkeypox can infect anyone, most people will not likely have any exposure to monkeypox. It does not spread like COVID. Just a reminder that COVID is still being spread. People are still being hospitalized and dying from COVID. There is plenty of vaccine and boosters available for all 6 months and older which is the best way to prevent long-term effects, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

Top photo from CUPHD Facebook page.

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